What My 1st Year Of College Taught Me About Grace

Kevin Cochrane
Kevin Cochrane

first year college taught grace

The last papers have been turned in and the finals have been taken. My freshman year of college is in the rearview mirror, and once more, I have profited from another lesson in the majesty of God’s grace.

Grace, in terms of its broader theological definition, is usually described as the unmerited favor of God toward men. Think of Christ on the cross, and it’s at Calvary where we can glimpse the flesh-and-blood ramifications of God’s grace. Remaining honest to His personal nature, God used my circumstances to bridge the gap between theological knowledge and firsthand field experience of His grace. Here is what I learned.

My Identity In Christ Does Not Change With The Environment

In college, workaholics occupy the top of the academic totem pole. The hours one invests into his work determines the return he reaps. As an English major, I spent most of my time reading, writing, and revising—then reading, writing, and revising some more.

While it was certainly necessary to dedicate a large chunk of time to my studies, I slipped into the pitfall of oftentimes pinning my identity to the degree of academic excellence I attained. Even worse, prayer and devotions would take an all-too-lengthy sabbatical in favor of academics.

I saw firsthand that whenever work becomes the sole element of one’s identity, it becomes an idol. I noticed how simple it could be to transfer the “works-mentality” into my relationship with Christ.

Instead of drawing near to God, I would engage Him on a level where it was about how many chapters of the Bible I read and the amount of time I prayed. I had become like the Galatian church, trading faith in God’s unmerited favor for righteousness by the law. Galatians 3:1-3 describes the contradiction that I fell into:

“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”

I found that I struggled to cultivate a personal relationship with Christ whenever I approached him on the basis of checking off boxes on a to-do list. Therefore, I learned that who I am in Christ does not shift in terms of the environment I’m in.

The Grace Renaissance

Not wanting this mindset to fester, I resolved to dwell on God’s grace, especially in relation to my own daily life. Being an English major, I reflected on the process of writing a paper. No matter how much I paid attention to detail or carefully constructed an analysis, I understood that my final copy would not receive a perfect grade, because as a human being and flawed academic, I won’t produce infallible work.

College is a meritocracy (and rightfully so): one gains access through his academic merits and gains his degree by the development of those attributes that earned those aforementioned merits.

While a ninety-six percent on a college English paper is a satisfying result, that grade is still a convicting failure in the eyes of the law. However, this fact made me appreciate God’s grace even more. Fortunately for us, Jesus fulfilled the letter of the law to every iota and still bore the torment intended for us in order to purchase our redemption. I never knew an A-level college student who would go on academic probation for a failing classmate, yet that is exactly what Jesus did for us.

This form of grace is a central theme to the Bible, but it is refreshing to be reminded of its potency whenever the scenery changes. Frankly, I have the tendency to lapse into the deception that the quality of my work can bring me peace before God. Quite the opposite, God first plants peace within us through Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection.

And this is the most precious lesson my first year of college taught me: God enhances our work once we remove it from the throne intended for Him. Knowing this, I discovered the crucial peace that comes with understanding that any earthly accolades I have garnered do not gain me entrance into His presence or access His will for my life.

As to the result, I partnered my works with His grace and found that my work ethic produced better academic results while my stress about the outcome decreased.  He will do the same for us all in our own circumstances; the challenge that remains is for us to drop our merits before the cross and (as rapper and committed Christian KB declares in the song “I Wouldn’t Know” on Lecrae’s new EP Church Clothes 3), “see amazin’ grace / invading spaces / changin’ places now.”

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